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Encyclopedia > Key West
Map of Key West
Map of Key West

Key West is a city located in Monroe County, Florida. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 25,478. What is odd is the 1920 census put the population at approximately 20,000. It is the county seat of Monroe County6.

The city of Key West is on an island of the same name at the westernmost tip of the Florida Keys. It is also the southern terminus of U.S. 1.



In Pre-Columbian times Key West was inhabited by the Calusa people. The first European to visit was Ponce de Leon in 1521. As Florida became a Spanish colony, a fishing and salvage village with a small garrison was established here.

The name "Key West" is derived from a "false friend" anglicization of the Spanish language name of the island, Cayo Hueso, meaning "Bone Island".

In 1763 when Great Britain took control of Florida, the community of Spaniards and Native Americans were moved to Havana.

Florida returned to Spanish control 20 years later, but there was no official resettlement of the island. Informally the island was used by fishermen from Cuba and from the British Bahamas, who were later joined by others from the United States after the latter nation's independence. While claimed by Spain, no nation exercised de facto control over the community there for some time.

In 1815 the Spanish governor in Havana deeded the island of Key West to Juan Pablo Salas of Saint Augustine, Florida. After Florida was transferred to the United States, Salas sold the island to US businessman John Simonton for $2,000 in 1821. Simonton divided the island into plots and sold some of them. There was already a town on a part of the island, with the inhabitants recognizing the authority of no nation. Simonton lobbied the U.S. Government to establish a naval base on the island, both to take advantage of the island's strategic location and to bring law and order to the town. In 1823 Commodore David Porter of the United States Navy West Indies Anti-Pirate Squadron took charge of Key West, which he ruled (but, according to some, exceeding his authority) as military dictator under martial law.

Major industries in Key West in the early 19th century included fishing, salt production, and most famously salvage. A number of the inhabitants worked salvaging shipwrecks from nearby Florida reefs, and the town was noted for the unusually high concentration of fine furniture and chandeliers which the locals used in their own homes after salvaging them from wrecks.

During the American Civil War, while Florida joined the Confederate States of America, Key West remained in US hands thanks to the Naval base.

Buoy at the southernmost point in the continental United States

In the late 19th century salt and salvage declined as industries, but Key West gained a thriving cigar making industry.

Many Cubans moved to Key West during Cuba's unsuccessful war for independence in the 1860s and 1870s.

Key West was the last of the series of Keys connected to the Florida mainland by a series of railroad bridges completed in 1912, as the Overseas Railway extension of Henry M. Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 destroyed many of the railroad bridges, and drowned hundreds of Flagler's workers. The United States Federal Government then rebuilt the rail lines as an automobile highway, completed in 1938, which became an extension of United States Highway 1. The portion of US 1 through the Keys is called the Overseas Highway. Because Key West can be accessed by land, the southern point of the island is marked as the southernmost point of land on the United States mainland.

Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West for many years, and graces the front of Sloppy Joe's bar t-shirts.

In the 1980s Key West, and the rest of the Florida Keys, briefly declared its "independence" as a protest over a United States Border Patrol blockade. This blockade was setup on U.S.1 where the Northern end of the Overseas Highway meets the mainland at Florida City. This blockade was in response to the Mariel Cuban boatlift. Flags, T-shirts and other merchandise representing the Conch Republic are still popular souvenirs for visitors to Key West.

Notable Key West Natives

  • David Robinson - born in Key West while his father was stationed there with the Navy
  • George Mira = Native of Key West went on to star as a two-time All-American at the University of Miami in the early 1960s. He played Pro Football for San Francisco and the Miami Dolphins. His nickname was “The Matador".
  • Boog Powell - Played for Key West High in the 1950s, went on to star for the Baltimore Orioles from 1961 to 1974 (his final three years were with the Indians and Dodgers). He had 339 career home runs.

Notable Key West Non-Natives


Location of Key West, Florida

Key West is located at 24°33'33" North, 81°47'3" West (24.559166, -81.784031)1. The maximum elevation above sea level is about 16 feet, known as Solares Hill. Key West Island is about 4 miles long and 2 miles wide; since the late 20th century it has been artificially expanded to the north.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 19.2 km˛ (7.4 mi˛). 15.4 km˛ (5.9 mi˛) of it is land and 3.8 km˛ (1.5 mi˛) of it is water. The total area is 19.73% water.

Key West is the southernmost city in the contiguous 48 states, as seen in picture (see Extreme Points for more information.)


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 25,478 people, 11,016 households, and 5,463 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,653.3/km˛ (4,285.0/mi˛). There are 13,306 housing units at an average density of 863.4/km˛ (2,237.9/mi˛). The racial makeup of the city is 84.94% White, 9.28% African American, 0.39% Native American, 1.29% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.86% from other races, and 2.18% from two or more races. 16.54% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 11,016 households out of which 19.9% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.7% are married couples living together, 8.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 50.4% are non-families. 31.4% of all households are made up of individuals and 8.1% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.23 and the average family size is 2.84.

In the city the population is spread out with 16.0% under the age of 18, 8.4% from 18 to 24, 37.1% from 25 to 44, 26.7% from 45 to 64, and 11.7% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 39 years. For every 100 females there are 122.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 126.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $43,021, and the median income for a family is $50,895. Males have a median income of $30,967 versus $25,407 for females. The per capita income for the city is $26,316. 10.2% of the population and 5.8% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 11.5% of those under the age of 18 and 11.3% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

External links

  • City of Key West (http://www.keywestcity.com/) official site
  • Key West Jobs (http://floridakeystreasures.com/Jobs/) City, State, County and Local Business Employment listings.
  • Key West (http://www.keywesttravelguide.com) Booking and information by local Key West residents. Extensive restaurant, gallery, and attraction sections.
  • Photo-Gallery (mit Diashow) (http://www.strausbach.de/keywest_photo.php)
  • Key West Florida Adventure Guide (http://www.maintour.com/southflr/keywest.htm) - Local attractions, museums, resorts, recreation and special events.
  • Scuba Key West (http://www.discoveringfloridakeys.com/scuba-diving-key-west.html) - About scuba diving in Key West.
  • Photos of Key West - Terra Galleria (http://www.terragalleria.com/america/florida/key-west/)
  • Maps and aerial photos
    • Street map from Mapquest (http://www.mapquest.com/maps/map.adp?latlongtype=decimal&latitude=24.559166&longitude=-81.784031&zoom=6)
    • Topographic map from Topozone (http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=24.559166&lon=-81.784031&s=200&size=m&layer=DRG100)
    • Aerial photograph from Microsoft Terraserver (http://terraserver.microsoft.com/map.aspx?t=1&s=14&lon=-81.784031&lat=24.559166&w=750&h=500)


Florida Keys

Upper Keys: Key Biscayne | Virginia Key | Key Largo | Long Key (Rattlesnake Key)

Middle Keys: Islamorada | Tavernier | Plantation Key | Matecumbe Key | Craig Key | Fiesta Key | Long Key | Conch Key | Duck Key | Grassy Key | Deer Key | Vaca Key | Marathon Key | Boot Key
Lower Keys: Bahia Honda | West Summerland Key | No Name Key | Big Pine Key | Torch Key | Little Torch Key | Ramrod Key | Summerland Key | Cudjoe Key | Sugarloaf Key | Saddlebunch Keys | Big Coppitt Key | Boca Chica | Key West
Outlying Islands: Dry Tortugas | Marquesas Keys
Areas: Florida Bay | Dry Tortugas National Park | Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary | National Key Deer Sanctuary | Biscayne Bay | Biscayne National Park
Other Topics: Overseas Highway | Overseas Railway | Seven Mile Bridge | Key Deer | Conch Republic | Monroe County | Hurricane Georges | 1935 Hurricane | Theater of the Sea

  Results from FactBites:
St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture: Key West (936 words)
As an artifact of popular culture, Key West generates powerful and often contradictory cultural messages: it is at once a quintessential Navy town and a haven for literary figures, beachcombers, and assorted eccentrics.
For poet Wallace Stevens,; the essence of Key West was its aqueous ambiguity, its ephemeral substance surrounded by the "ever-hooded, tragic gestured sea." His well-known poem, "The Idea of Order at Key West," can be interpreted as a hymn either to order or disorder, or to a subjective reality simultaneously negotiating between both.
Leicester Hemingway writes that his brother's Key West period "begins in the public mind with a picture of a bronzed giant fighting huge fish,; then heading inshore for the roughest, toughest bar to celebrate the catch, possibly pausing somewhere to beat out a letter to Esquire, using words growled from one corner of the mouth.
  More results at FactBites »



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